Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nuclear news updates for 08/15/11

Highlights from wire services

Japan Confirms Plans For New Nuclear Regulator 

type keys15 Aug (NucNet): The Japanese government has announced plans to create a new nuclear safety agency under the Environment Ministry.

This will separate the country’s national regulator – the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA – from the influence of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The plans call for the new agency to be established in April 2012 by integrating NISA and the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC).

The decision to separate NISA from METI was first proposed in a 750-page report into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident published in June 2011, three months after the accident.

The report said it was unclear at the time of the accident exactly who had ultimate authority for nuclear safety. NISA is the regulator, but it is a division of METI. That means NISA – which supervises the safety of nuclear energy – is overseen by the ministry that promotes nuclear energy.

To make the new agency independent from METI, the government said it would be established under the Environment Ministry, which does not have close ties to nuclear energy companies.

Japan To Continue With Plans For Two Units In Vietnam

12 Aug (NucNet): Japan will continue with plans to support Vietnam by building two nuclear reactor units in the country.

The decision was confirmed after a meeting of Japan’s state secretary for foreign affairs, Chiaki Takahashi, and Vietnamese deputy prime minister Hoang Trung Hai in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Aug 11.

The governments of the two countries reached an agreement in October 2010 for Japan to build two reactor units with the first beginning commercial operation by 2021.

Vietnam’s initial nuclear plans are for four nuclear units in the southeastern province of Ninh Thuan.

An agreement has already been signed with Russia to build the first two units, with Japan scheduled to build the second two.

The agreement with Russia provides for the construction on a turnkey basis of two nuclear units, each of 1,000 megawatts.

According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), Vietnam plans to build 14 units by 2030 to meet the country's growing demand for electricity.

Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan has called for Japan to reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation.

But Japan's government has decided to honor contracts for nuclear plants that have already been signed or are under negotiation, JAIF said.

China Completes Post-Fukushima Safety Tests

11 Aug (NucNet): China has completed safety inspections of its nuclear power plants, raising the possibility that work could resume on an ambitious reactor building program that was suspended in the wake of the March 2011 accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

According to a notice published on the website of the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) today, safety inspectors completed a tour of the country's existing reactors and nuclear construction sites on 5 August 2011.

The CNEA said inspections had been carried out by a team of 50 experts and in line with International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards.

Particular attention had been paid to “serious accident prevention and mitigation” including the possibility of flooding and seismic activity.

China suspended all new reactor approvals and ordered a halt to the construction of nuclear facilities on 16 March 2011, five days after the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

China has 14 nuclear units in commercial operation and 27 under construction.

On 7 August 2011, the second unit at phase two of the Lingao nuclear power plant in southern China began commercial operation.

The Lingao site is about one kilometre northeast of the Guangdong nuclear site, also known as Daya Bay, with which it shares a number of facilities.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company said the total combined gross capacity of the two plants is now 6,108 MW (5,764 MW net), jointly making Lingao-Guangdong the largest nuclear plant site in China.

Germany’s Nuclear Pullout ‘Could Cost Every Household in Europe’

8 Aug (NucNet): Germany’s decision to close its nuclear power plants by
2022 will set back efforts to decarbonise the electricity supply by 10 crucial years and could prove expensive for every household in Europe, an article in ‘New Scientist’ magazine says.

The article, by David Strahan, says the German government has “admirable” plans to raise renewable electricity to 35 per cent of consumption by 2020. But even this planned increase falls five per cent short of filling the hole in zero-carbon electricity left by abandoning nuclear.

Germany plans to fill that hole with coal and other fossil fuels. It has plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including nine gigawatts of coal by 2013, the article says.

“So it looks as though by the end of the decade Germany will at best have about the same amount of zero-carbon generation as today – 40 percent – and probably less.

“Had Germany retained its nuclear capacity and achieved its renewables target, the zero-carbon share would have been 58 per cent. We are told this decade is crucial for our emissions reduction trajectory. For Germany it will be a lost decade during which emissions from its electricity generation are likely to rise.”

The article says that Trevor Sikorski, head of environmental market research at London investment bank Barclays Capital, calculates that Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined under the EU's emissions trading scheme.

UK Announces Closure Of Sellafield MOX Fuel Facility

3 Aug (NucNet): The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced today it plans to close its mixed oxide (MOX) fuel plant at Sellafield “at the earliest practical opportunity” after assessing its “risk profile” in the light of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

The NDA said in a statement that working with Japanese customers, it has been reviewing the future of the plant in the light of the impact on the Japanese nuclear industry of the earthquake in March and the likely effect on the plant’s program and associated commercial arrangements. 

The NDA said the Sellafield plant will continue to store Japanese plutonium and hold discussions with Japanese customers on a responsible approach to support Japanese utilities’ policy for the reuse of their spent fuel.

The trade union representing workers at the plant said the closure decision is thought to have been influenced by the lack of funding available from Japanese contracts following the shutdown of Fukushima-Daiichi in March 2011.

Japan has four commercial nuclear reactors using MOX fuel and has been planning to build its own MOX fuel fabrication plant.

The Sellafield MOX fuel plant takes plutonium which has been reprocessed from spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield's Thorp plant and recycles it into MOX fuel, which can be reused to fuel nuclear reactors.

The NDA's decision relates to the Sellafield facility only. Separately, the government has been consulting on the policy options for dealing with the UK's plutonium stockpile, including possible re-use as MOX fuel.

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